Texas Football: Can the Longhorns Win the Big 12 in 2012?

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Malcolm Brown looks to carry the Texas offense to a Big 12 title.

<p> Texas Football: Can the Longhorns Win the Big 12 in 2012?</p>

The college football season is a couple of months away, but the countdown to 2012 has officially begun. Athlon Sports’ 2012 preseason annuals will be hitting newsstands in early June and its official top 25 countdown will begin on May 1. Picking the order of finish in each conference and compiling the top 25 is no easy task. Each day leading up to the release of No. 25 on May 1, Athlon’s editors will tackle some of the top preseason debates and question marks facing the teams and conferences for 2012.

Can Texas Win the Big 12 in 2012?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
Texas is probably closer to winning the Big 12 title than it is to finishing 8-5 again, especially if we’re to believe what we saw from quarterback David Ash in the bowl game. If Texas can win eight games (and finish 11th in the country in defense) in its back-to-the drawing board season after the 5-7 debacle, the Longhorns certainly can complete the rebuilding job in two years. The question is if the offense is ready to compete for the Big 12 title. I think it will be. The run game is proven, and the young offensive line will have another year to develop. Provided Jaxon Shipley is healthy and Ash can cut his turnovers, Texas has the potential for a balanced offense. On the other side of the ball, Texas could have the best pass defense in the league, a critical cog in winning the Big 12. Texas won’t be a national title contender, but the Longhorns could be good enough to win the Big 12. Oklahoma probably will be the favorite, but the Sooners have lingering questions in the passing game with Ryan Broyles gone. Landry Jones and receivers Kenny Stills and Jaz Reynolds seemed lost without the all-time reception leader on the field. As a conference favorite, Oklahoma may be vulnerable. If Texas can repeat the strides made last year, the Longhorns will be a worthy contender.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Without question the Texas Longhorns will compete for a Big 12 title in 2012. Manny Diaz enters year number two on the 40 Acres with clearly the best defensive unit in the conference. There is elite level talent on every level of the Burnt Orange defense after leading the Big 12 in rushing, passing, pass efficiency and total defense a year ago. With Robert Griffin III, James Franklin, Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden all gone from the schedule in 2012, there is no reason to think this side of the ball won't get even better for Mack Brown.

Bryan Harsin and the Longhorn offense, however, is a totally different story all together. Harsin, also entering his second year on campus, should have no concerns about his offensive playmakers in the backfield or on the edge. The stable of backs and trio of talented receivers give quarterback David Ash plenty to work with in 2012. Yet, the sophomore's development and consistency are still major question marks. We think he solidified himself in the bowl win over Cal and we think he locked down the starting job in spring practice last month. But we won't know anything until the bright lights at DKR Memorial Stadium click on in September. While quarterback play is huge for Texas, the offensive line could actually be the lynchpin for any Longhorn success this fall. If Ash can turn around and trust his talented tailbacks to pick-up key yards, his job will be that much easier. The O-Line has to lead the offense this year.

The schedule sets up nicely for the Horns to challenge for a conference title as well. Gamey Big 12 newcomers TCU and West Virginia both have to come to Austin while road trips against road trips to Lubbock and Lawrence shouldn't be too difficult. Brown catches a break by facing Oklahoma State (in Stillwater) early in the year as true freshman quarterback Wes Lunt will be facing a pass rush the likes he has never even dreamed about. As usual, the trip to the Texas State Fair on October 13 will likely determine the Big 12 champion — that is, if Texas can exercise some purple demons on the final weekend of the season in Manhattan, Kansas.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
I think Oklahoma has to be the favorite to win the Big 12, but the gap between the Sooners and Texas is very narrow. Losing receiver Ryan Broyles certainly had a huge impact on the offense late last season, but Oklahoma’s passing attack should be better with a full offseason to scheme to make changes to its scheme to compensate for the personnel losses. Trey Metoyer should be a breakout player at receiver for quarterback Landry Jones, but the offense also needs a full year from running back Dominique Whaley. Oklahoma’s defense has a few holes but will benefit from the return of Mike Stoops as defensive coordinator.

Its not crazy to think Texas’ Big 12 title hopes could rest on one person – quarterback David Ash. The Longhorns have a deep stable of running backs and the best defense in the conference, but won’t win the league if the passing game doesn’t improve. Ash doesn’t have to be Robert Griffin, but he can’t throw more interceptions than touchdowns.

I am picking Oklahoma to win the Big 12, but would not be shocked if Texas ended up as conference champs. The Longhorns improved their win total by three last year and improving the quarterback play could mean another two victories. If Ash develops consistency and allows Texas to open up the offense, there’s no reason why the Longhorns can’t win the Big 12 – especially if Oklahoma struggles to get its passing attack in order. Regardless of which team finishes No. 1 and No. 2 in the conference, the Big 12 should have a good shot to get two teams into BCS bowls in 2012.

Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
The Longhorns have the talent to get back on top of the Big 12, but I think Oklahoma has to be the favorite. Texas will be led by a stingy defense, featuring a pair of ferocious ends in Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat. The secondary will be excellent as well, with safety Kenny Vacarro and corners Carrington Byndom and Quandre Diggs leading the way. The obstacle that Mack Brown’s club faces to regain league supremacy is getting the offense back to the high level it enjoyed under Vince Young and Colt McCoy. The running game improved last season with Malcolm Brown toting the rock, but the Horns must find some stability at quarterback. Davis Ash looks to be the leading candidate to improve the Texas passing game, and the Longhorns must find a way to score more points in a conference that gives up a lot defensively. The UT roster is loaded, but I still see the Sooners as the class of the Big 12.

Where will Texas finish in the 2012 Big 12 standings? Check back on May 1 as the 2012 Top 25 countdown will be released one team a day.

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